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$800 million in new state grants aim to help the smallest of small businesses

State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) on Monday

State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) on Monday talked about the small business recovery grant program, which is part of the new New York State budget. She was joined by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, local officials and chamber and small business leaders. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The owners of Station Plaza Coffee Shop & Diner in Mineola plan to investigate the state’s new $800 million COVID-19 relief grant program for small businesses after failing to secure a Nassau County restaurant grant.

Co-owner Peter Vatakis said Monday that he and George Arniotis didn’t qualify for county help because they haven’t owned the diner long enough. They purchased it in 2019 after working as cooks there.

"A grant will help keep us alive," Vatakis said, referring to the COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program. "We don’t qualify for a lot of the grants out there because we only purchased this place eight months before the pandemic."

The diner, across from the Long Island Rail Road station, hosted a news conference where state Sen. Anna Kaplan, chairwoman of the Senate Small Business Committee, outlined the grant program in the 2021-22 state budget that was adopted this month.

To be eligible for a grant, she said businesses must have 100 or fewer employees and be able to show a revenue loss last year compared with 2019. Priority will be given to businesses with 10 or fewer employees and those owned by women, veterans or members of minority groups or are in poor neighborhoods.

Details being worked out

"The state will be taking unprecedented steps to ensure that these grants get into the hands of small businesses who need them the most," said Kaplan (D-Great Neck), adding that some local entrepreneurs didn’t qualify for the federal Paycheck Protection Program loan and Economic Injury Disaster Loan or didn't apply because they worried about not being able to repay the loans

She said Empire State Development, the state’s business-aid agency, is drafting regulations for the small business recovery grant program, which it will oversee.

ESD spokeswoman Kristin Devoe, speaking from Albany, said the agency "is working as quickly as possible to put together a program that will fit the needs of highly impacted small businesses so they can build back better from the COVID-19 crisis. As soon as we have details to share, we will release them to the public immediately," she said.

Outside the Mineola diner, the senator was joined by her colleague, Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown), Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Mineola Mayor Scott P. Strauss and leaders of chambers of commerce from throughout the county.

Raising program awareness

Valerie Anderson Campbell, Nassau director of the Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce, and Eric Alexander, founder of the downtowns’ group Long Island Main Street Alliance, both said raising awareness about the grant program will determine its impact. Up to 4% of the state funding will go to groups that help small businesses to submit grant applications.

Julie Marchesella, a leader of the Elmont Chamber of Commerce and owner of a women’s formalwear store in Merrick, urged state officials to make it easy to apply, particularly for business owners who may not speak much English.

"Please make these forms available in languages that they can understand," she said as an LIRR train departed the station. "Please simplify the process so that there are fewer forms to fill out to receive this necessary economic funding."

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